Worship with Hope, Grow with Love, and Serve with a Passion for Justice.

The Inspirational Courage of a Refugee Mom

By Mike Puckett

It is with much sadness that I share the tragic news of the passing of Joanna, 12 year-old daughter and the eldest of Chimpaye Vumilia’s five children. Beargrass welcomed this family last September in our most recent refugee co-sponsorship. Some of you set up the apartment for this family prior to arrival; a dozen of you welcomed them at the airport; and many others gave home furnishings, food, and monetary donations, as Beargrass shared God’s love with this  Congolese family upon their arrival from a Ugandan refugee camp.

Joanna had a febrile illness at age 2 which required hospitalization, and left her cognitively impaired. She was fragile, suffering daily seizures thereafter. Yet, her life had improved substantially in the US, after Norton Children’s assessed her condition and greatly reduced her seizures through a new pharma protocol. She had even begun formal education here, spending the last 4-5 months at Johnson Middle School. Then, inexplicably, she was found unresponsive at home on May 4, and was taken to hospital where she passed.

The youth services staff at Kentucky Refugee Ministries have spent untold hours over these many months assisting this 36 year-old, single mom. They were with her every step of this past week’s journey, including during discussions about whether she wished to consider donating Joanna’s organs. It seems this is quite unusual in Congolese culture; and even in the US, it is somewhat rare for the organs of children to be donated. In spite of these factors, Chimpaye held firm throughout several conversations that is exactly what she wanted for Joanna.

On Thursday morning, May 9, I shared sacred space with 10 KRM staff members and 4 JCPS teachers at Norton Children’s. We participated in an Honor Walk alongside this young hero as she was moved from life support to the operating room for the procurement of her organs. Dozens and dozens of medical professionals lined the long hallways in tribute to Joanna and her family. While it was highly emotional and very sad….it was also a journey of God’s hope. There existed  the possibility that if all went well, Joanna could offer the gift of life through her heart to an 8 year-old on the waiting list.

Joanna’s funeral will be in the Nunnelly Chapel at Legacy Funeral Center, 4327 Taylor Blvd, at 9:00 AM on Saturday, May 18. Visitation at Legacy will be on Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The burial will follow the funeral at 11:00 AM at Resthaven Memorial Park on Bardstown Road.

While KRM has worked diligently to keep Chimpaye’s expenses down, they will still greatly exceed her financial resources. So, please prayerfully consider making a memorial gift in celebration of Joanna’s life by clicking above, and choosing ‘Refugee Family Donation’ from the FUND drop down menu, or through a check to Beargrass clearly marked for the Vumilia family. Thank you, Beargrass, for continuing to share God’s love with this courageous mom and her little ones. Peace.


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